Chef Patrick Engel prepares North American-style tapas dishes. In the Oct. 2007 internet survey "What's Hot … What's Not" by the National Research Association and American Culinary Federation, 73 per cent of chefs said the inclusion of these types of small dishes on menus will be among the top culinary trends in 2008, along with offerings of bite-sized deserts. (Sheryl Nadler/Canadian Press)
The dish on the latest restaurant servings
Last Updated April 10, 2008
Jennifer Allford, CBC News
Perhaps you've been noticing a few changes in the meals you've been ordering and enjoying in your favourite restaurants of late. Maybe you've noticed more small plates, along with more ostrich and far less tofu on the menu.
That's because tofu is out; small plates and exotic meats are in. Those are just a few of the dozens of culinary trends identified in a recent survey of 1,282 professional chefs in the U.S.
The internet survey — the second annual "What's Hot … What's Not" by the National Research Association and American Culinary Federation — looks at this year's culinary trends, and it turns out small is big this year. The chefs were asked, in October 2007, to rate 194 individual food and beverage items, cuisines and preparation methods as "hot," "passé," or "perennial favourites."
Bite-size desserts are in for 2008, said 83 per cent of the chefs surveyed, as are small plates (with emphasis on dishes such as Spanish tapas and Greek mezze) according to 73 per cent of the chefs who responded.
"The trend of small plates is definitely hot, including offering tasting menus of small portions of food, wine or other alcohol beverages," said John Kinsella, president of the American Culinary Federation and senior chef instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati.
"I have seen these trends first-hand, so I know they are, indeed, the hottest right now," he added.
Jason McKay is executive chef at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, which includes facilities such as The Paskapoo Lounge and Naturbahn Teahouse, and which also handles catered corporate events. McKay has enjoyed tapas in restaurants from Calgary to New York. "Little bite-sized things are huge, because I think people like to try many different things and not fill up on one main meat," he said.
"Appies are huge, but it's not chicken wings anymore," McKay adds. "It's pheasant and gazpacho and lobster mousses. Tapas will never go away. It's a great trend, and it's more fun for the kitchen, too, because we get to try a whole bunch of things."
The survey backs up McKay's observation. Chicken snacks aren't as popular as they used to be. Once-desirable bar snacks such as chicken tenders and Buffalo wings came in last in the survey, scoring just 24 per cent support as hot-list items. (Coincidentally, that's probably not far off Jessica Simpson's popularity rating these days. The singer infamously refused an order of Buffalo wings because she doesn't eat buffalo.)
Greening the menu
Other big culinary trends this year include an emphasis on alternative-source ingredients, such as locally grown produce, organics, sustainable seafood, grass-fed and free-range meats, as well as red meats such as buffalo, ostrich and venison.
Asian appetizers are the trendiest item on cutting-edge menus, according to 62 per cent of the chefs. The survey shows that having ethnic cuisines, flavours and ingredients on the menu remains popular. Ethnic Fusion topped the list of ethnic cuisine, with 64 per cent of the chefs surveyed classifying it as hot, followed by Latin American cuisine, at 59 per cent, and Mediterranean cuisine, at 58 per cent. The chefs ranked sushi at 49 per cent, Indian food at 43 per cent and Cajun and Creole each at 30 per cent.
If perchance you were wondering what the committee organizing the 2008 Beijing Olympics and French President Nicolas Sarkozy could have in common, how about despair over this ranking: Chinese food and French cuisine tied for last place on the ethnic cuisine hot list, with support of just 22 per cent of chefs surveyed.
But McKay cautions that food can be as fickle as politics.
"People go from one trend to another really quickly," he says. "You can say that Chinese restaurants are lower on the totem pole, but it's still a giant business."
"I remember when people were all over the Aitkin's diet, and everybody wanted double the protein: steak and chicken," he adds, pointing out that the trend lasted a couple of years before chefs could make room on the plate for other things such as vegetables.
Old favourites getting stale?
The survey shows that bottled water, fresh herbs, exotic mushrooms and whole-grain items have dropped out of the top 20, where they were last year.
Other not-so-trendy items for the menu include rutabagas, at 35 per cent, arugula, at 34 per cent, lentils, at 31 per cent, and asparagus — at 22 per cent. Low-carb dough, tofu and fruit or flavoured wines are all officially passé (you heard it here first).
And, just in case you have been waiting for confirmation, Cobb salads and layered cakes are as over as Lindsay Lohan's career.
McKay says not so fast, though; two out of the three could still enjoy a comeback. "You could do anything to a Cobb salad and call it something else, and people would pick it up," he says. "As for layered cakes, it may not be a mile-high slab of cheesecake, but I love layered cakes."
Pomegranates topped the list of hot fruit, with 62 per cent support, while the unappreciated and much-maligned grape comes in dead last, at 14 per cent. But don't shed too many tears over the poor old grape. Like high-waisted jeans, it will have its day in the sun again.
"Food is like fashion," says McKay. "Everything comes back."
The chefs appear to favour the savory over the sweet for condiments: Salt (sea, smoked, coloured or kosher) is first on the hot list, at 64 per cent, whereas maple syrup is last, at a still-respectable 29 per cent.
To wash it all down, the hottest non-alcoholic beverage is enhanced or flavoured water, at 59 per cent.
In the National Research Association and American Culinary Federation's Oct. 2007 internet survey "What's Hot … What's Not," microbrew beer (also called craft beer) was forecast to be one of the top-selling alcoholic beverages in restaurants in 2008, with 70 per cent of the chefs surveyed expecting it to be in big demand. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
The fizz appears to have gone out of pop and carbonated beverages; they rank at the bottom of the list, with only 12 per cent of the chefs surveyed saying they're what the stylish set will be sipping with meals.
The top three alcoholic beverages are craft, or microbrew, beer, at 70 per cent, energy drink cocktails, at 64 per cent, and martinis, at 63 per cent. Meanwhile, you'll find Vermouth drinking alone at the other end of the list, at 12 per cent.
As for how they whip it all up, the chefs say the trendiest preparation technique is braising, at 59 per cent. A close second is pan-searing, at 55 per cent, followed by grilling, at 54 per cent, with steaming and poaching coming in neck and neck, at 33 per cent each.
The least popular method of preparing food among the chefs surveyed this year is deep-frying, at 17 per cent (while potatoes rank at 35 per cent on the hot list, there's no word on the king of deep fried: french fries).
McKay says trends are born from watching competitors around the block and restaurants in cities like New York. But he says the bottom line for any establishment is giving the customers the food they desire.
"You have to understand what people want," he says. "If I were to put fine-dining tapas in the food court, they'd probably throw it at me. They want hot dogs and french fries."
- The Food We Eat: The Nation's Diet
- Apple icewine
- For a phylogenetic diverse diet, hit the drive-thru
- Portion size
- Rice riots and empty silos
- Is the world running out of food?
- Sustainable farming
- Turkey faq